Perfomers will take to a newly built stage for the theater's holiday show.
Peter Amster knows his way. The longtime director for the Asolo Repertory Theatre has put on numerous plays and productions and has experienced happiness and heartbreak and every emotion in between.
Lately, though, he's faced something far worse — boredom.
The 70-year-old director had a handful of shows lined up at the start of 2020, all of which were cancelled by COVID-19. Retirement doesn’t suit the man, and he’s been clawing at the proverbial walls looking for a way to return to the theater.
On Dec. 18, he’s getting his chance — just not in the way he first expected. Amster will take the stage as a singing performer as part of the Asolo Rep’s “We Need A Little Christmas” holiday concert. Amster, and four other performers, will be on the theater’s recently built outdoor stage for an hourlong show full of Christmas tunes and cheer. It's a different kind of creative expression for Amster, which is exactly why he signed up.
(Asolo Repertory Theatre director Michael Donald Edwards) asked me 'How would I like to be in it' and my first response was ‘Are you out of your mind?,” Amster said. “But my vanity and ego leapt ahead of my common sense, and I said yes.”
The holiday concert took shape when Associate Artistic Director Celine Rosenthal and Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards set about thinking of a way to resume productions after it became clear the pandemic would prevent actors and audiences from filling the Mertz Theatre for the fall season.
Rather than finagling with Zoom to put together an online show, the co-directors settled on a more tangible endeavor by having the theatre’s technical team construct an outdoor stage for audiences to see performances in person.
"We started to think creatively about how to utilize a space that's safer where our audience can be outside and socially distanced and enjoying something while being safe," Rosenthal said. "(We realized) the best space that we would have the most control over is our very own theater."
The new Terrace stage — at the front of the theatre — is large enough to fit five performers six feet apart at once. Instead of attempting a full play or musical as a first go with the new space, the duo decided a concert would be a better fit. The show have the performers assembled in a few variations for solo and trio performances, and all five will be on the stage together at one point.
“It’s a celebration of musical theater,” Rosenthal said. “We’ve got musical numbers, holiday tunes, and original (songs)."
The show pulls from Christmas classics, songs that have been tweaked to reflect the holidays, and original songs. Though it’s under wraps, Rosenthal hints the show will have a few guest performers she thinks will entertain the audience.
It’s not typically an easy operation to move performers on and off stage without getting too close to one another, as is necessary in this pandemic year. Rosenthal hasn’t struggled with planning out new choreographies and practice schedules, she says she enjoys figuring out logistics to make the physical layout work safely. One of her favorite discoveries has been using the front of the theatre as an engaging backdrop for the show.
Amster and his other performers started in-person rehearsals this week, and the new performer It's been a minute since Amster has been on the stage as a performer but he does has years of watching actors hone their craft.
He says his process for learning his new role has been to take it slow and steady, learning new lines and letting them settle as he continues to work on his singing voice. He's been a producer of a music festival in Michigan for the last 15 years which has lent some opportunities to sing, so he has some experience there.
For him, it's a matter of learning to work with directors in a new light to bring the best experience to the audience.
"I'm looking forward to being on the other side of the desk," Amster said. "I'm looking forward to listening to these directors ... to make sure that we're together we're giving the audience the best moments that we can."
If You Go
What: “We Need A Little Christmas”
When: Friday, Dec. 17 to Sunday, Jan. 3
Where: Asolo Repertory Theatre
Tickets $25 to $50
Call: (800) 361-8388.
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